Monday, 29 February 2016

The Red Brotherhood

Do the people of Azerbaijan count as Central Asian? They probably shouldn't, what with being on the wrong side of the Caspian Sea and all; but they had shared ancestry with the people of Turkmenistan, khans (for a while), a Turkic language, and cool headgear, so I'm gonna lean towards 'yes'. Besides, including them gives me an excuse to include something based on the Qizilbash.

A Qizilbashi soldier. Note the pointy red hat.

The Qizilbash ('red-head') rebels of late medieval and early modern Azerbaijan were the last in a long, long line of political and religious resistance movements in the area, stretching back through the revolution of Babak and Banu Khorramdin, the followers of the Veiled Prophet of Khorasan, and ultimately the reformist Zoroastrian movement founded by Mazdak in the 6th century AD. You can read up on the historical details if you're interested, but the core idea is this: a thousand-year-tradition of resistance to injustice and corruption, always persecuted by the powerful, existing underground for centuries at a time only to resurface in times of great upheaval to call again for justice upon the Earth. Inheritors not just of a defeated religion, but of a defeated reformist movement within that defeated religion, adapting their beliefs to changing historical circumstances but still somehow keeping the flame alive. Remembering the possibility of righteousness. And wearing pointy red hats.

Of course, the Qizilbash themselves make no sense when removed from their actual historical context: but a group loosely inspired by them can work. Thus, the Red Brotherhood, who fulfil the narrative role of 'the resistance' within the Wicked City. They're the people on the inside, covertly struggling against tyranny, fighting a shadow-war with the Secret Police. They are the inheritors of a very, very old tradition: their ancestors have fought in uprisings and rebellions against many different kingdoms over the centuries, cherishing a dream of earthly harmony which the cruelties of history seem determined to frustrate. Their beliefs are based on the Way of Solar Righteousness taught by the Children of the Sun, but in a modified form much better-suited to the grimy practical realities of life in the world; and whereas the Children of the Sun specialise in spectacular last stands and glorious martyrdoms, the Red Brotherhood long ago learned the importance of choosing one's battles and knowing when to cut one's losses. When the Wicked King rose to power, and a sick despair spread across the hearts of the people of the Wicked City, the Red Brotherhood weathered it better than most: they organised in secret, maintaining their safe-houses, resisting corruption, keeping the faith. They had ample experience of keeping up their organisational infrastructure under conditions of tyranny and persecution: and so it was around them that the nascent resistance to the Wicked King began to coalesce.

They don't actually wear the red hats any more, of course: that would be suicidal. These days the red is purely symbolic, standing for the blood they all end up shedding sooner or later in the pursuit of their goals. They live seemingly ordinary lives, as shopkeepers, craftsmen, soldiers, and bureaucrats; they have infiltrated the hopelessly corrupt ranks of the King's Men, and they have agents in both the King's Tower and the Cobweb, although the Secret Police have so far proven completely impenetrable to them. They are, by necessity, ruthlessly pragmatic, turning a blind eye to innumerable acts of injustice in order to preserve their ability to act on those rare occasions when it really counts. They maintain hiding-places deep under the city, in the labyrinthine corridors of the Maze, and it is to these that many of them ultimately come, for this is the pattern of their lives: years of waiting followed by a moment of decisive action, and then, their cover blown, a lifetime spent lurking in the shadows, training the next generation. They are patient. They know that no tyranny endures forever.

Illustration by Luis Royo, who is a sufficiently talented artist to make it regrettable that 90% of his output is wasted on ultra-repetitive fantasy porn. I mean, come on, more harem girls?

Within ATWC, the Red Brotherhood are intended as late-game allies for the PCs, the kind of people who can help them put the last few pieces of their plans into place. They will not rush out and attempt to recruit or ally with the PCs the moment they take some kind of stand against the cruelties of the Wicked City: instead they will wait, and watch, and wait some more, keeping tabs on their actions, gauging their potential. Only when they are absolutely certain that the PCs are both competent and committed to the struggle against the Wicked King will they attempt to initiate contact, and then only indirectly. They can potentially do a great deal for the PCs - provide them with information and safe-houses, smuggle them into the King's Tower or across the Cobweb, arrange for patrols to be delayed and doors left unlocked, and so on - but as many of their most important members are effectively single-use assets, they will need to be completely certain that the benefit from using them is worth the cost. They are intensely loyal to one another, and will certainly not throw away the lives of their brothers for the sake of some hare-brained scheme dreamed up by a bunch of strangers: but if the PCs can present them with a real, credible, well-researched plan for bringing down the Wicked King, they may well be surprised just how much the Red Brotherhood can do in order to help them put it into practise. 

If it becomes necessary find out in a hurry whether the Red Brotherhood have any kind of presence in an organisation (a tower in the Cobweb, a regiment in the King's Men, a department in the King's Tower, etc), roll on the table below:

Have The Red Brotherhood Infiltrated This Organisation? (Roll 1d12)

1-4: The Brotherhood have no presence within the organisation.

5: Someone in the organisation is, unbeknownst to themselves, in a relationship with someone who is member of the Brotherhood, meaning that they have a roughly 50% chance of hearing about what happens within it after a short lapse of time.

6: The Brotherhood have established some kind of hold over someone within this organisation, via threats, blackmail, bribery, or similar. They pass on information regularly and can be pressured into performing minor tasks on their behalf, but they have no actual loyalty to the Brotherhood's ideals and will not expose themselves to any kind of danger on its behalf.

7: Someone in the organisation is sympathetic to the Brotherhood. They won't take any action that might endanger themselves, but if something happens within it that they feel the Brotherhood really needs to know about, they will pass the information on to a guy who knows a guy.

8: Someone in the organisation is a member of the Brotherhood. They will report on what happens within it, but will not take any action that has the remotest chance of blowing their cover except on direct orders or under the most extreme circumstances. (Saving someone's life does not even come close to qualifying as 'the most extreme circumstances', though saving a whole lot of lives might.) 

9: Someone in the organisation is a member of the Brotherhood, but they're under a lot of suspicion and thus have to do everything they can to display their loyalty and ruthlessness. When help arrives from the PCs, it'll be from the last person that they expect.

10: A very low-ranking member of the organisation is a member of the Brotherhood: the boy whose job it is to polish the weapons, for example, or the girl who makes coffee for everyone at the office. They don't have a lot of power, but nobody pays much attention to them, and they overhear a lot. They're also pretty handy with a set of lockpicks.

11: A fairly high-ranking member of the organisation is a member of the Brotherhood, and has been working to subtly minimise the harm it does. They could probably make it seriously malfunction once - order a regiment of soldiers to release all its prisoners, for example, or call off a government raid - but after that they'd have to disappear.

12: Someone in the organisation is a member of the Brotherhood, but unfortunately they're actually working for the Secret Police. When their betrayal comes, the cell structure into which the Brotherhood is organised should limit the damage they can do, but the PCs may well end up getting caught in the crossfire!

[Korean woman wrapped in cloak] by Cornell University Library, via Flickr:

Thursday, 25 February 2016

B/X Class: The Mesmerist

Another class inspired by my browsing through the Pathfinder SRD. Pathfinder has a Mesmerist class, and like most Pathfinder classes it's enormously fiddly and overcomplicated, full of abilities that let you do one thing to allow someone else to do another thing which, in turn, gives you a bonus to a third thing when someone does something else. Maybe once I could have kept track of all that stuff, but now I'm old and tired and I just want a class which lets you stare at people until they drop down dead.

Fortunately, amongst the many, many areas of obscure knowledge I have accumulated over the course of my life is a bizarrely complete knowledge of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mesmerism; and, let me tell you, the stuff those guys got up to was easily weird enough for D&D. So here's a new Mesmerist class which is not only simple, but also HISTORICALLY ACCURATE, in the sense that all the things it can do are things which actual historical mesmerists claimed that they could do as well. (Yes, even the really weird ones like 'Eyes in the Belly' and 'Electric Sex'.) Because God knows that the one thing most D&D games need more of is a bunch of pseudo-Victorian hypno-occultists who go around staring at people all the time.

(I am now morbidly curious about what a B/X game would look like if it used Mesmerist, Angel, Inquisitor, and Patchwork Girl as its four core classes...)

* * *


Hit Dice, Experience, saving throws, to-hit charts, weapons and armour: All as magic-user.

Mesmeric Stare: By staring at someone for one round, you can project waves of MESMERIC FORCE into their bodies and their brains. This ability has a maximum range of 20' plus 5' per level. Your target must make a save or go into a trance state, effectively paralysed by your mesmeric powers for as long as you maintain total concentration. (Of course, if they want to enter a trance state, then they can forgo their save.) If your target takes any damage, or if you take any action other than walking, talking, and staring, this effect immediately ends. Once someone succeeds in a saving throw against your mesmeric stare, you cannot attempt to mesmerise them again for the next 24 hours.

Mesmeric Passes: If you use both hands to make continual waving motions at the target of your Mesmeric Stare, propelling additional waves of MESMERIC FORCE into their bodies, they take a -2 penalty to their saving throw. You can only make Mesmeric Passes if your hands are empty and your arms are unencumbered.

Sonambulism: Once you have placed someone into a trance state using your Mesmeric Stare, you can order them to perform simple physical actions: 'drop your weapon', 'walk forwards', 'unlock the door', and so on. All these actions will be performed very slowly and clumsily, making fine manipulation impossible. (Similarly, if you tell them to attack someone, their blows will be so slow and clumsy that only an immobile target will be in any danger from them.) If you order them to do something harmful to themselves, or repugnant to their beliefs, they may make a new saving throw to break out of the trance; and if they actually take damage, the trance ends immediately.

Mesmeric Energy: You have a pool of Mesmeric Energy (ME) equal to your level. If your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score is 13 or higher, you gain an extra +1. If any of them are 16 or higher, you gain an extra +2, instead. This energy is used to power your Mesmeric Powers (see below), and is recharged after a good night's sleep.

Iron Will: Whenever you are affected by a mind-affecting supernatural power (e.g. sleep, charm person, fear, etc), you may spend 1 ME to reroll your save (or to make a save, if the power doesn't normally allow one). If you fail, you can try again next round until you either pass your save or run out of ME.

Mesmeric Transfer: By touching a fellow mesmerist, you may transfer any amount of your own Mesmeric Energy to them. If this transfer brings them above their normal maximum level of Mesmeric Energy, the excess must be used immediately or it is lost at a rate of 1 point per round.

Battle of Wills: If you ever try to involuntarily mesmerise another mesmerist, they are instantly aware of your attempt; and, instead of making a saving throw, they may instead choose to engage you in the world's most epic staring contest. Each round, you each roll 1d6 and add your Mesmerist level; the loser loses 1d3 points of Mesmeric Energy. Whoever runs out of Mesmeric Energy first is mesmerised by the winner.

'You're trying to mesmerise me again, aren't you, Miriam?'
Mesmeric Powers: At level 1, you may select one of the following Mesmeric Powers for your character. Select an additional Power for each subsequent level.

The powers you may choose from are as follows:
  • Clairvoyance: Once you have placed someone into a trance state, you may spend 1 ME to relocate their senses to another location, with a maximum range of ten miles per level. The location must either be named (e.g. 'inside Lord Beaumont's study') or exactly specified (e.g. 'on the other side of this door' or 'three hundred yards west of here'). For the duration of their trance, the entranced individual can see and hear whatever is happening at this location as if they were actually present, and will truthfully answer any questions you ask about what is happening there. The effort is very tiring, however, and can be maintained for a maximum of one minute per level; after this the subject collapses in exhaustion and the trance ends.
  • Derange: Once you have placed someone in a trance, you may spend 1 ME to scramble the animal magnetism in their brain. They may make a new save to break out of the trance and resist this effect; but if they fail, they will start to behave in completely crazy, random ways as soon as the trance ends, and continue to do so for one hour per level.
  • Diagnosis: Once you have placed a sick individual in a trance state, you can ask them to diagnose themselves. They will then proceed to recite some eccentric-sounding but basically harmless routine of diet and exercise that they need to undertake in order to get well. ('Eat celery seven times a day and avoid all contact with hot water', for example, or 'run three miles every morning and drink nothing but raspberry juice'.) Provided these instructions are followed to the letter, the patient will recover from their illness completely in 2d6 days.
  • Electric Sex: By spending 1 ME, you can charge an iron bedframe with animal magnetism for the next 24 hours. The next two people who have sex on it during that time will be refreshed and revitalised: each will regain 1d4 HP, and will gain a +1 bonus to Strength and Constitution for the next day. 
  • Energy Drain: Once you have placed someone into a trance state, you may concentrate for one round and spend 1 ME to suck all the animal magnetism out of them. They may make a new save to break the trance; but if they fail, they take 1d6 damage per level. Unlike all other forms of damage, this does not cause the trance to end. If the damage doesn't kill them, you can try to energy drain them again the following round.
  • Enthrall: If you place a single individual into a trance state (willingly or otherwise) for at least one hour per day, and continue doing this for a number of days equal to their Wisdom score, then at the end of this time you may invest one point of ME in them to reduce them to a state of reflexive obedience. While in this state they will automatically obey any instructions you give them that are not obviously harmful or repugnant in character, and may be placed in or out of trance states by you at will, simply with a word, gesture, or glance. (You don't need to concentrate to maintain these trance states.) If you try to force them to do something harmful or abhorrent and they then pass their saving throw to resist your command, then the Enthrall effect ends as well and must be re-established from scratch.
  • Eyes in the Belly: Anyone whom you have placed into a mesmeric trance gains the ability to see as though they had eyes in their stomach. These 'gastric eyes' can see through clothes, darkness, containers, and even thin walls, allowing them to see inside locked chests, through doors, etc. For the duration of their trance, the individual will turn their eyes to look in any direction you dictate, and will truthfully recite what they can see through them.
  • Inspire Dread: When any enemy you are facing makes a morale check, you may spend any amount of ME to make yourself seem fearsome and terrifying. Your enemies take a penalty to their morale check equal to the amount of ME spent.
  • Long-Range Mesmerism: Once you have successfully mesmerised someone, from that point forwards you may spend 1 ME to attempt to mesmerise them even if they are not present, up to a maximum range of 10 miles per level. If they don't want to be mesmerised, they get a saving throw as normal, and if they pass their save then you cannot attempt long-range mesmerism against them again until you have re-established your hold over them by successfully mesmerising them in person. (People under the influence of your Enthrall ability don't get a saving throw, however.) Once they are mesmerised, you gain a general sense of where they are and what they are doing, and you may then use any of your other mesmeric powers on them - commanding them with Sonambulism, healing them with Mesmeric Healing, etc - just as if you were actually present. The trance ends if they are hurt or if your concentration is broken. 
  • Magnetise Fluid: By spending 1 ME, you may charge a bottle of water with animal magnetism. Whoever drinks it will be healed, regaining 1d6 HP. The water will retain the charge for a maximum of 24 hours, or 48 hours if mixed with iron filings.
  • Magnetise Ink: By spending 1 ME, you can imbue the ink of a letter you've just written with a mental impression: an emotion, for example, or an image, or a short phrase. The first person who reads the letter will immediately find this emotion, phrase, or image taking root in their mind, although if they're not familiar with mesmerism they may not realise where it has come from!
  • Magnetise Metal: You may spend 1 ME to charge a metal wand with animal magnetism. Wielding this wand whilst making Mesmeric Passes at people imposes an additional -2 penalty on their saving throws against your Mesmeric Stare ability, for a total of -4. The wand retains its charge for 24 hours.
  • Mass Mesmerism: By spending 1 ME and directing your Mesmeric Stare against a whole group of people (who must all be standing in a group, allowing you to stare at all of them at once), you may attempt to simultaneously mesmerise a number of people equal to twice your level. They all get saving throws as normal. You may choose to have any subsequent mesmeric abilities you then use (e.g. Mesmeric Sleep, Mesmeric Command, Suppress Pain, etc) affect any or all of them, at your option.
  • Mesmeric Charisma: You may spend any amount of ME to give yourself a magnetic and commanding quality to your words and gestures. For each point of ME expended, your effective Charisma is increased by 2 for one hour per level, up to a maximum of 20.
  • Mesmeric Command: By spending 1 ME, you may gain a much more powerful form of control over someone whom you have placed in a trance state, similar to a Charm Person spell. For as long as you maintain complete concentration, they will obey your commands to the full extent of their normal ability: they will fight for you, perform complex tasks for you, truthfully answer questions you ask them, and so on. As with Sonambulism, harmful or abhorrent orders permit them to make a new saving throw to break the trance.
  • Mesmeric Healing: Once you have placed someone in a trance state, you may spend any number of points of ME to heal their injuries. Each point expended allows them to heal 1d6 HP. If you spend three or more points at once, they are also healed of any poisons currently affecting them. 
  • Mesmeric Sleep: By concentrating for one round, you may cause anyone whom you have placed in a trance to fall into a deep sleep. They instantly pass out, and unless awakened by loud noise, pain, or similar, they will continue to sleep for the next 1d6 hours. By spending 1 ME, you may instead choose exactly how long they sleep, up to a maximum of 24 hours. (Taking any kind of damage still wakes them up immediately, though.)
  • Mesmeric Spiritualism: Anyone whom you place into a trance state gains the ability to see and communicate with nearby invisible beings, spirits, ghosts, etc. They will truthfully describe what they see and hear, and can be used to convey messages back and forth between you and the spirits.  The effort is tiring, however, and can be maintained for a maximum of ten minutes per level; after this the subject collapses in exhaustion and the trance ends.
  • Perfect Recall: Anyone whom you place into a trance state gains the ability to answer questions about their past with perfect accuracy, including recalling entire conversations - even conversations conducted years ago in languages they don't know - word for word. During the trance state they will truthfully and accurately answer any questions you ask them about their past. Perfect recall is tiring, however, and can be maintained for a maximum of ten minutes per level; after this the subject collapses in exhaustion and the trance ends.
  • Phreno-Magnetism: By spending 1 ME, you may channel mesmeric energy into one of the phrenological organs of a target whom you have mesmerised, enormously exaggerating one side of their personality: so you could supercharge their rage, their fear, their friendliness, their laziness, and so on. This effect begins as soon as the trance ends, and lasts for a number of hours equal to your level.
  • Summons: Once you have successfully mesmerised someone, from that point forwards you may spend 1 ME to attempt to call them to you, up to a maximum range of 20 miles per level. They instantly become intuitively aware of your location, and experience an overwhelming desire to come to you. If they attempt to resist this, they may make a saving throw; if they pass then the effect ends, and you cannot attempt to summon them again until you have re-established your hold over them by successfully mesmerising them in person. (People under the influence of your Enthrall ability don't get a saving throw, however.) Otherwise, they must come to your side as quickly as possible. The effect ends if your concentration is broken. 
  • Suppress Pain: Once you have placed someone into a trance, you may spend 1 ME to render them impervious to pain for 1 hour per level. During this time, the damage they take from all attacks is reduced by 1. (So a hit that would inflict 3 damage inflicts 2 instead, and so on.) This may be combined with Mesmeric Sleep to place people into mesmeric comas from which they are effectively impossible to awaken until the appointed time.

Monday, 22 February 2016

“You can’t ever let that see print”: Horror, Pathfinder and the limits of the publishable

The worst horrorshow of all is that wizard's fashion sense. I really hope she's wearing something under those skirts.

[Warning: spoilers for some 9-year old adventure modules below.]

The Pathfinder adventure paths are pretty good but they're way too long. Like, I've just finished reading The Skinsaw Murders, and the whole thing is basically five scenes:
  1. A serial killer stalks the town, and they're obsessed with one of the PCs! The only surviving witness to the killings is being held in an asylum; but when the PCs visit him, he bursts his bonds and attacks the PC who the killer is obsessed with, screaming about how he should be the favourite one! Examination of his body shows he's suffering from ghoul fever...
  2. A half-mad farmer stumbles into town gibbering about all his neighbours being eaten by scarecrows! The farms are full of ghouls; they're infecting their victims with ghoul fever, and tying them up in the fields as scarecrows while they transform into undead. Come too close and the 'scarecrows' rip off their bonds and try to eat you!
  3. Clues from the ghouls point to the big haunted mansion outside town! Wander around in it having visions of the horrible things that happened there, then go down into the basement and kill the boss ghoul, who's also the serial killer.
  4. The boss ghoul was part of a murder cult in a nearby city, operating out of a lumber mill. Go there and kill them all.
  5. The cult's leader had been charmed by a lamia living at the top of an old clock tower. Fight your way up it, battling her minions while she drops bells on you from above, and then kill her. THE END.
That takes up about fifty pages of closely-printed, double-column text. I'm confident it could have been done in less than half the length without losing anything of substance. 

Anyway. At the start of The Skinsaw Murders, Paizo editor-in-chief James Jacobs explains why he commissioned a series of horror-themed adventures: as he writes, 'after working in the adventure-publishing industry for nearly half a decade, I’ve noticed that horror-themed and “gritty” adventures are usually the ones that become the most popular.' But at the start of its sequel, The Hook Mountain Massacre, Jacobs writes that he had to heavily edit the manuscript which he was sent by the module's author, Nicholas Logue:
Nick went a little… over the top, shall we say, in places. A few of the scenes in his original draft were things I can never unread. [...] Even as I was cackling in glee to myself at what three not-so-lovely hags had in store for an unlucky commander of a remote mountain fort, or re-reading in disbelief what Jeppo Graul was doing to his brother Hograth when the PCs were scheduled to show up, the editor in the back of my mind was shaking his head. “You can’t ever let that see print,” he said. “The police would show up at Nick’s house and take him away, and then he’d never be able to write adventures for you again!”
Now, this is clearly hyperbole, unless the original manuscript was hundreds of times more extreme than the published version. But I believe Jacobs when he says that he felt he had to edit the manuscript Logue sent him before it was publishable: not because the original version would have got Logue or himself into legal trouble, but because it was simply too extreme for the mainstream RPG audience which Jacobs was aiming for. This, in turn, makes The Skinsaw Murders and The Hook Mountain Massacre very interesting documents, as they allow one to calibrate with some accuracy exactly what kinds of horror material were felt to be publishable in a mainstream fantasy RPG product circa 2007. Clearly, Jacobs wanted horror, but not too much horror. So where exactly was the dividing line?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out to be all about sex.

Francisco Goya, Great Deeds Against the Dead (c. 1810-20)

The many graphically-described mutilated corpses that litter these adventures, impaled, skinned, disembowelled, posed in gruesome tableaux... they're all men. The horribly deformed ogres who carry out these crimes, their heads sagging with giant tumours, their faces carved away with hooks, their lower jaws missing, their teeth pulled out and replaced with metal fangs... they're all men, too. It's a veritable carnival of male-on-male violence. The family of cannibal ogrekin hillbillies in The Hook Mountain Massacre are led by a grotesquely obese matriarch, who murders all her female children at birth to avoid competition - and while that does add to the horror, it also allows their home (which is essentially one long homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) to be an essentially all-male domain. There are dark hints about what her sons may have done to female captives in the past, but nothing explicit - and the captives in their basement when the PCs arrive are, once again, all men.

The ogre clan later is, once again, virtually entirely male: there's one brain-damaged female ogre sorceress, but all the most horribly deformed, mutilated, torture-happy ogres are male, as are their victims. (There's one passing reference to female corpses having been incorporated into some taxidermic horrorshow, but it's very brief.) When the text does deal with damage to female bodies, it suddenly becomes terribly vague, as when the ghost of a murdered nymph is described: 'Her lower torso fades away to smoke, savaged too cruelly by the ogres for even her insane ghost to keep.' (There's probably a coded reference to sexual violence, here, but it's well below the level of plausible deniability.) Given that Pathfinder is in most respects notable for its commitment to gender diversity - after all, three of the four pre-generated characters provided for use with the module are women - I think that this very striking focus on male-on-male violence must stem from a worry that if the same scenes featured female corpses, they would instantly be interpreted as examples of sexual sadism, and thus fall under the heading of things that could not be allowed to see print.

Think of this rogue next time you blithely assert: 'Oh, yeah, my guy is totally carrying, like, twenty throwing daggers...'

The document that survives - the edited, published text of The Hook Mountain Massacre - is an exercise in textual repression. Rape hovers behind every scene, but is firmly kept at the level of dark insinuation, as in this passage on the origins of ogrekin:
Savage, cruel, and lacking all conscience, ogres typically raid for three reasons: out of greed, for love of slaughter, or—worst of all—to procreate. Fortunate victims of ogre attacks are quickly killed, their bodies turned into morbid playthings. Those who survive such attacks, however, face much worse.
Much worse. Full stop. End of paragraph. The next sentence moves straight on to game mechanics. What's being implied is obvious: that the ogres kidnap human women for use as breeding stock, forcibly impregnating them in order to give themselves a source of ogrekin minions. But it doesn't actually say it, as though to actually use the word 'rape' would be to cross some invisible line. Given what happened to Black Tokyo last year, this may not be too far from the truth. Everyone appears to have been fine with the fact that Scorched Urf were publishing a rape-fetish hentai game, and had been for years, right up until they made the mistake of publishing a book which actually used the word 'rapist' in the title...

Let's look at those other dark hints: the points where Jacobs mentions the things in the initial manuscript which made him think that "You can’t ever let that see print". What were the hags doing to the fort commander, which was so horrible that Jacobs felt it couldn't be published even in a horror module? What was Jeppo Graul doing to his brother Hograth? It could have been anything, but the obvious answer, in both cases, is rape: rape of men, as one would expect from the module's overall aesthetic (and more-or-less confirmed by Jacobs' reference to 'banjo music', an allusion to the famous male rape scene from Deliverance), but rape none-the-less. Rape, and other forms of overtly sexualised violence, is the thing you can hint at but not mention. It's the thing that lies beyond the pale. Mention that a male body has been dismembered and mutilated and people will accept it as 'just' violence; but mention that a female body has been treated in the same way and it will be read in sexualised terms, and that's simply not acceptable.

Now, in real-world terms, this is a pretty silly distinction: anyone who obsessively mutilates human corpses obviously does so because it gives them an erotic thrill, regardless of the sex of the corpse in question. To imagine that there is no sadistic erotic charge involved in mutilating, torturing, flaying, dismembering, or eating someone, and that as long as both parties keep their pants on then it's all just good, clean, entirely non-sexual fun, is merest wishful thinking. To imagine that rape is a 'fate worse than death', so much more horrible than any other that it cannot be mentioned even in a book full of cannibalism and dismemberment, is honestly pretty insulting to actual rape survivors everywhere. (I know lots of people who have been raped. None of them would rather have been murdered, let alone killed in the kind of slow and awful ways that appear in these books.) In this sense, Chandler, Raggi, and McKinney, whatever their other faults, strike me as being more honest in their handling of horror and violence, because they don't artificially wall off its overtly sexual components and thus don't attempt to create the (entirely misleading) impression that the violent content which remains has nothing to do with sex. I entirely understand why Jacobs made the editorial decisions he did: media depictions of sexual violence have become a talismanic issue in recent years. But I find the resulting attempt to have it both ways, to dwell in pornographic detail upon spectacularly damaged human bodies while skirting around the edges of the obvious sexual implacations of such sadism, is... uncomfortable? Distasteful? 'We're totally going to publish an adventure full of redneck rape ogres straight out of The Hills Have Eyes, but we're not actually going to include any explicit sexual violence, so it's all OK!' It seems like a trivialisation of the material involved, in a misguided attempt to render it 'safe' for mainstream consumption. Better to accept that some material isn't safe, that it can't be and shouldn't be safe; better to treat it with the seriousness that it deserves, or not to engage with it at all.

This is one of the many ways in which I've found romance fiction helpful, actually: romance re-inscribes the erotic dimension into everything. It won't let us pretend that violence has nothing to do with desire; in fact, it's often much more grown-up about this stuff than horror is. It's an insight which I've tried to draw upon in my own game-related writings, although probably not with unmixed success.

The Skinsaw Murders is a better adventure than The Hook Mountain Massacre anyway. 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Ruins of the Great Road

5th Century Ancient Church Ruins- Turkey:

The length of the Great Road is dotted with cities, but it is also littered with ruins. The road itself is vastly older, and more resilient, than the kingdoms through which it runs. Nations rise and nations fall: but the hunger of the east for the goods of the west, and of the west for the goods of the east, is a constant which transcends the vagaries and contingencies of history.

Anyone who travels for any length of time along the Great Road will soon get used to the sight of ruins: fallen towers, abandoned temples, shattered fortresses, long-neglected monuments, cities choked with the desert sands. The traders use them as landmarks by which to calculate their progress. Most of the ones closest to the Great Road itself are harmless, picked clean long ago by generations of treasure-seekers; but the further one goes from the beaten track the less likely this is to be the case, and that fallen observatory on a hill ten miles south of the road may have been left virtually untouched since the day of its abandonment. Brave and/or foolhardy young men who travel with the caravans of the Great Road, tiring of the endless monotony of the journey, sometimes decide to enliven their trips by doing a little treasure-hunting and ruin-delving on the side. Sometimes they come back rich. Sometimes they don't come back at all.

They are, in other words, an easy excuse to add a bit of small-scale dungeon-crawling to an overland adventure. With the aid of these tables, it should be possible to throw together a vaguely plausible-seeming ruin in a matter of minutes!

Chinese company mining for copper unearthed a Buddhist monasteri in at Mes Aynak, south of Kabul, Afghanistan.:

What Was This Place Originally? (Roll 1d10)
  1. Market Town
  2. Manufacturing Town
  3. Caravanserai
  4. Watchtower
  5. Small Fort
  6. Large Castle
  7. Temple
  8. Monastery 
  9. Observatory
  10. Necropolis
What Happened To It? (Roll 1d12)
  1. Plundered by steppe nomads, its population killed, enslaved, or fled.
  2. The wells dried up, and it became uninhabitable.
  3. Wrecked by a major earthquake and the fires that followed it, survivors left rather than trying to rebuild.
  4. Abandoned due to constant raiding from desert-dwelling bandits.
  5. Fell under an ancient curse.
  6. Abandoned during severe famine, survivors never returned.
  7. Orders came from far-off imperial capital that it was to be abandoned, no reason given.
  8. Plague killed almost everyone, survivors fled into the wilderness.
  9. Destroyed in the fighting between two rival kingdoms.
  10. Inhabitants joined new religious cult and abandoned the homes and shrines of their ancestors.
  11. No-one knows: inhabitants just seem to have vanished overnight.
  12. Inhabitants rounded up by slavers and dragged off in chains to be sold in the Wicked City.
What Lives There Now? (Roll 1d12)
  1. Ghosts.
  2. Vagrants and scavengers.
  3. Lepers.
  4. A small colony of Blighted individuals.
  5. Bandits.
  6. Skull-Wearers
  7. Pig-men.
  8. A nest of Brass-Snout Rats.
  9. A degenerate clan led by a Dahakan.
  10. Malfunctioning clockwork robots.
  11. Gigantic serpents.
  12. A band of Brigands of the Noonday Dark.
Notable Environmental Features (Roll 1d12)
  1. Infested with clockroaches.
  2. Partially flooded.
  3. Seriously structurally unsound.
  4. 50% of nearby water sources are impure and poisonous.
  5. Full of wild songbirds.
  6. Covered with ancient graffiti.
  7. Littered with ancient machinery, rusted and dangerous.
  8. Protected by hidden traps.
  9. Overgrown with spectacular wildflowers.
  10. Half-buried by the desert sands.
  11. Voices can be heard singing or whispering in ancient tongues, but the rooms they seem to come from always turn out to be empty.
  12. Home to a nest of cute furry animals, easily trapped for use as pets or snacks. 
What Treasures Does It Hold? (Roll 1d20)
  1. A hidden cache of lapis lazuli jewellery.
  2. Ancient clockwork machinery, too damaged to be repaired but still valuable as spare parts.
  3. Cute little clockwork automata, repairable with a bit of work.
  4. A horde of silver coins from many different kingdoms.
  5. A mostly-functional suit of Steam Knight armour.
  6. Ancient manuscripts, worth a small fortune to scholars.
  7. Ornate, man-sized bronze statues, beautiful but not easily portable.
  8. Religious relics, potentially valuable if sold to the right sect.
  9. A well-padded crate containing glassware from the distant Sunset City.
  10. An assortment of ancient potions in sealed vials. What do they do? Only one way to find out!
  11. A book of abstruse alchemical formulae written by some long-dead disciple of the Sage of Gold.
  12. A beautiful pair of jewelled, bladed fans, for which any Jewelled Fan Dancer or Murder Harlot would pay handsomely.
  13. A three-legged Bronze Horse.
  14. A golden icon of the Scarab Queen. Her worshippers would probably like to get it back.
  15. A crate full of raw opium.
  16. Beautiful but broken ceramics from the far east, potentially repairable with the aid of a steady hand and a lot of patience.
  17. An old musket whose butt is made from fantastically-carved ivory.
  18. A jewelled pocket-watch.
  19. The carefully-preserved heads of 1d6 Brass Men, whose brains would reactivate if only someone were to wind them up.
  20. Roll again, except the treasure in question is haunted and/or cursed.

Stupa at the Jiaohe ruins, China,  was an important site along the Silk Road trade route leading west.:

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Manly Skill of Mongolian Wrestling

Mongolian Wrestler:

The Mongols recognised three Manly Skills: horsemanship, archery, and wrestling. Of the three, it was wrestling which provided the purest test of Manliness. The wrestler has no horse or bow to help him, or to take the blame for his failure. He stands nearly naked, with nothing to rely upon except his own strength, skill, agility, and guile.

Here's how it works: two men dance towards each other, their movements imitating the motions of birds or tigers, in the hope of calling the qualities of the chosen animal down into their body during the struggle ahead. Then they grab for one another and attempt to pull each other down. No punching, kicking, or throttling is permitted; just grips and holds, trips and throws. The loser is the first one to be forced to touch the ground with any part of his body other than his feet. There are no time limits. Matches can go on for hours.

The existence of Mongolian wrestling is handy for ATWC, because it gives an easy excuse for non-lethal physical confrontations. If someone insults you, or humiliates you, or makes a pass at your boy- or girlfriend, there's no need for guns or swords to be drawn: just challenge them to a wrestling bout, and prove in front of everyone that you're more Manly than they could ever be. Because the rules are so simple, and so universally regarded as an authentic test of Manliness, there's no reason why even a random encounter in the middle of the steppe (or, indeed, the middle of a dungeon) shouldn't be resolved by a wrestling match rather than actual combat. Two groups of heavily armed strangers encounter one another, point guns at each other, trade insults... and then their leaders step forwards, strip off, and wrestle, with the loser's group ceding ground to the winner in recognition of his superior Manliness. Courage is proven and worth tested without anyone having to get their brains splattered all over the floor.

For this to work, it's important to emphasise that virtually everyone in the steppe regions (and for hundreds of miles around them) is a massive wrestling fan. That Pig Man you just encountered in a cave someplace? Totally up for a wrestling match. That ancient clockwork warrior you just accidentally reactivated in some half-fallen ruin? You bet he'd be willing to wrestle you! There are limits, of course - drop into your best wrestling stance in front of the Secret Police and they'll just shoot your kneecaps off - but, in general, wrestling is everyone's go-to form of non-lethal conflict. Your PCs should totally be getting into wrestling matches all the time. 

Besides, it gives them an excuse to take their clothes off. Every romance narrative needs an excuse for gratuitous male toplessness.

Wrestling Rules
  • Your basic Wrestling Rating is equal to the sum of your Strength bonus, your Dexterity bonus, and the melee to-hit bonus granted by your class level. 
    • Example: A 3rd-level fighter (to-hit +3) with Strength 13 (strength bonus +1) and Dexterity 11 (dexterity bonus 0) has a base Wrestling Rating of 4. 
  • If you're a trained wrestler (as most inhabitants of the steppes will be), add an extra +1 to your Wrestling Rating. If you actually spend a substantial chunk of your life practising and working on your wrestling technique, this bonus rises to +2. 
  • If you've had a chance to study your opponent's technique, either from wrestling them before or carefully watching them wrestle someone else, you can add your Wisdom bonus (if any) to your Wrestling Rating.
  • If you are substantially larger and heavier than your opponent, add +1 to your Wrestling Rating.
  • In traditional Mongolian wrestling, it is expected and encouraged that each wrestler's best friend should stand just a couple of feet away from them, yelling advice and encouragement and dispensing all-purpose smack talk to the audience. If your supporter (called a zasuul) has a positive Charisma or Wisdom bonus, you may add an extra +1 to your Wrestling Rating. 
To resolve a wrestling bout, each wrestler rolls 1d6 and adds their Wrestling Rating. If one wrestler beats the other's score by 3 or more points, then they score a quick victory and their opponent goes down within minutes. If not, then the match goes long. Each wrestler adds their Constitution bonuses to their Wrestling Rating, to represent the importance of stamina in the long bout, and unless the initial rolls were tied, the loser reduces their Wrestling Rating by 1, to represent their dented confidence from getting the worse of the initial exchange. Each then rolls 1d6 a second time and adds their modified Rating. Highest score wins: the larger the difference between the scores, the quicker the victory. A tie indicates a draw, probably because someone bungled a throw and ended up hitting the ground at the same time as their opponent.

Wrestlers as Characters: If you want to play a wrestler, just treat them as Fighters, with the following changes:
  • In a wrestling match, wrestlers always get the full +2 bonus to their Wrestling Rating for training and experience.
  • When serving as someone else's zasuul in a wrestling match, wrestlers can grant them an additional +1 bonus by shouting specialist advice on how they can best defeat their opponent.
  • In any fight in which a wrestler wears light armour (chain shirt and lighter) and is able to spend at least one minute immediately before battle doing his warm-up dance, he receives a +1 bonus to AC and REF saves for the duration of the battle.
These abilities replace the battlefield first aid ability of the regular fighter.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Monsters from Central Asian Mythology 7: Storm-Worms of the Cold Desert

Mongolian Death Worm. Image by Andy Paciorek.

This isn't really mythology, as such: many Mongolians sincerely believe in the existence of large, red, burrowing worms which live beneath the Gobi Desert. When they surface they are best left alone, because they have not one but two formidable natural defence mechanisms: not only can they spray a stream of highly acidic, poisonous fluid from their mouths, but their bodies also carry a powerful electrical charge, powerful enough to instantly kill anyone who touches one. None of the expeditions which have gone in search of the Mongolian Death Worm have ever found one, and I think it's safe to say that it probably doesn't really exist, at least in the spectacular form described by local folklore. It does make for good RPG monster fodder, though.

In its 'authentic' form, the Death Worm isn't really proactive enough to be useful. At best it's a kind of trap encounter: go too near the horrible worm and get your face melted off. The obvious route to take would be to imitate Dune, and make them into enormous mega-monsters; but then you're just doing a Dune pastiche, and any connection to Central Asia has rather been left behind. But maybe there's space for something viable somewhere inbetween...?

So: out in the cold deserts on the edge of the steppes, where the sand dunes glisten with frost by night, the wild Storm-Worms dwell. They are huge, solitary beasts, three feet wide and almost twenty feet long when fully grown, and they spend most of their lives burrowing far beneath the surface, deep in the guts of the earth: but in the brief rainy season, when the storms come sweeping over the desert and the rains pour down onto the sands, the Storm-Worms come surging to the surface. Churning through the soaking desert, they crash and writhe, their enormous bodies crackling with electricity as they sport in the brief rain; human and animal alike know to avoid them, as the worms can sense movement through the vibrations in the sand, and will direct withering sprays of acidic spittle at anything that gets too close. For those few hardy souls who risk travelling through the cold desert during storm season, the greatest danger is of a worm surfacing directly below you, as the creature will lash out in a panic with both its acidic spray and its electrified body at anything nearby: the native inhabitants of the region know how to spot the distinctive swelling of the sands which precedes their appearance, and know that seeing it is a warning to start riding away as fast as you possibly can. 

Very occasionally, however, some of the nomads of the cold desert will deliberately seek out the Storm-Worms when the rainclouds come. Wearing thick suits of insulating felt, they will spur their horses as close to a worm as they dare while it revels in the rain, before throwing lassos around its neck; they then wheel their horses and pull away in different directions, so that the lines pull taut and the worm is pinned down right in the middle, unable to turn its head and spit acid at its captors. They then drag it back into a pre-prepared enclosure at some distance from the encampment of their clan, where one man, the bravest and most skillful of all, must then run up behind it on foot and tie a thick felt blanket around the worm's heaving body, knowing that a single touch of his skin against its electrified flesh could easily mean instant death. A saddle is then strapped on over the blanket; and when the beast is needed, a rider leaps astride it to steer the worm by means of ropes and goads. The Storm-Worms are too unintelligent to train, and all their riders can really do is point them in the desired direction and aim their heads at people whom they would like to suffer an agonising acid-based death; but even this is enough to make them a valuable asset in times of war, and cold desert clans who fear being attacked by larger or stronger groups will sometimes try to obtain a Storm-Worm or two in the hope of evening the odds...

  • Storm-Worm: AC 14 (tough, segmented skin), 4 HD, AB +3, electrified thrash (1d4 damage + 1d8 electricity damage), FORT 10, REF 12, WILL 16, morale 6.  May spray acid at a single target up to 20' distant, who must pass a REF save or take 2d6 acid damage. Anyone damaged by this attack must also pass a FORT save or incapacitated by pain for 1d6 rounds.
Anyone touching a Storm-Worm, or hitting one with a natural attack or metal weapon in melee, will take 1d8 electricity damage unless they are completely insulated. Their electrical charge is biologically generated, and dissipates shortly after death. Their digestive systems contain very large quantities of powerfully acidic toxic fluid, which can be harvested from their corpses after death, although this is very dangerous work: anyone who doesn't know exactly what they're doing is likely to get their hands melted off in the process!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Monsters from Central Asian Mythology 6: Shurale

All the taiga cultures have stories of the strange not-quite-human creatures that dwell in the forest depths. In some tales, they're clearly spirits, like the Leshy of Slavic mythology: forest guardians, shape-changers, teachers of sorcery, rulers of the beasts. In others, though, they're basically just weird, wild beast-men who live in the woods, and it's in that form that they're probably most useful for D&D purposes. The Shurale, which appears in the legends of what was once the Khanate of Kazan (now the Russian Republic of Tatarstan), is a good example. In Farid Yurullin's ballet, Shurale, the eponymous creature is clearly a (malevolent) nature spirit, complete with a court of servitor spirits; but in Tuqay's 1907 poem it's just a rather dim, troll-like creature lurking in the woods. According to Tatar folklore, it resembles a furry man with long claws and a single horn on its forehead; it hides deep in the forest, where it plays spiteful tricks on passing humans, hiding the axes of woodcutters, stealing women, and luring unfortunate victims into its thickets where it proceeds to tickle them to death. Unfortunately, the Tickle Monster of the Taiga doesn't quite strike the requisite note of dread, so it's probably a good idea to downplay that bit if you want them to be taken seriously by your players.

So: deep in the taiga, far to the north of the Wicked City, live the Shurale. Tall, shaggy, long of limb, and covered in greenish-brown fur, they blend easily into their woodland environment: seen at a distance they are usually mistaken for mossy trees. Their fingers are too long for their arms, and their arms are too long for their bodies: a six-foot Shurale could easily have four-foot arms ending in twelve-inch fingers, allowing them to suddenly snatch up people or objects from surprising distances. They aren't quite men, or beasts, or spirits, and no-one's really sure where they came from, least of all the Shurale themselves. They all seem to be male, and unless something kills them they live pretty much forever. Given the chance, they will steal pretty things - clothes, jewels, young women - and hide them away in the depths of their thickets, where they will spend long hours laughing and gloating over them; and this, along with their taste for the playing of cruel tricks and their habit of murdering travelers who trespass too close to their hidden lairs, mean that they are usually regarded with deep hostility by nearby communities. Fortunately, they are not nearly as clever as they think they are, and quick-witted woodsmen and maidens are often able to turn the tricks and traps of the Shurale against them.

Most Taiga clans would love to shoot the Shurale on sight: but the creatures, as well as being weirdly difficult to actually kill, are also astoundingly knowledgeable about the woodlands they inhabit. They know the lairs of every animal, the health of every tree, and the personal history of every local spirit: it's often not clear how they know this, given their general dimness and laziness, but the information they provide always turns out to be correct. As a result, most communities grudgingly permit the Shurale to live unless they go too far; even when a beloved daughter has to be stolen back from them, the taiga peoples prefer to beat and humiliate the Shurale rather than actually kill them, in case their knowledge turns out to be needed later. When a deal is to be struck, the trick is to always allow the Shurale to believe they are getting the best of the bargain: and many a Shurale has sneaked back to its thicket with a bag full of worthless glass baubles, congratulating itself on its cleverness in obtaining such priceless gems in exchange for their knowledge. They are vengeful beasts, however, and if they ever discover that they have been tricked they will be ruthless in their pursuit of retribution.

The Shurale consider themselves to be the honoured brothers of both the Wise Folk and the Children of the Pines. The Wise Folk and the Children do not always share this perspective.

  • Shurale: AC 15 (agility, tough skin, and thick fur), 3 HD, AB +3, claws and headbutt (1d6 damage), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 14, morale 6. Heals 1 HP per hour. 

If a Shurale hits someone in melee, it can chose to grab them instead of clawing them: this does no damage, but its grip is so strong as to be effectively unbreakable, allowing them to carry their victims deep into the forests. (Armed victims can keep attacking them, of course, so the Shurale usually only do this to unarmed targets.) In forests, the Shurale is so stealthy that it has a 5-in-6 chance of surprising its enemies. They can move at full running speed through even the heaviest woodlands, weirdly contorting their bodies to fit through the spaces between the trees as they go. They have perfect, intuitive knowledge of all animals, plants, and spirits who live within a hundred miles of their lairs.

Konstantin Zverev performs the title role in Shurale.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Consolidated Wicked City setting document now available

I think I might have joined Google plus by accident. It said I needed to use a real name so I hit cancel, but something seems to have changed anyway. Now my sort-of-review of Fire on the Velvet Horizon has this funny '+33' on it and seems to have picked up a couple of hundred pageviews overnight.

Noisms said I should be on Google plus anyway, so maybe this isn't so bad. Am I supposed to be using it to 'share' things? I'm not really sure how all this is supposed to work...

Anyway. I realised that I've written well over a book's worth of rules and setting material for Against the Wicked City, and it was getting kinda hard to navigate, so I've assembled a handy, consolidated list of links into one page. You can see the link at the top of the page, just under the blog title, in the tab labelled 'Against the Wicked City: Collected Information'. I'll update it as I add more stuff, although to be honest I'm not sure how much more I'll write for it. I don't really believe that more is always better. Sometimes the more you add, the more you dilute what you already have.

I'll probably do more encounter tables and Central Asian monsters at some point, though. They're always fun to write!

EDIT: I figured out the Google plus thing. 'Joseph Manola' is not my real name, but it is the name on one of my degree certificates, so it'll do for gaming purposes. I've experimentally hit 'share' on a few of my recent posts, and now wait with mild trepidation to see what will happen next...

Monday, 1 February 2016

Central Asian traditional fashion for gamers

Mongolian wrestler:
Mongolian man in traditional wrestling gear.

I suspect that one reason why Central Asia has been so little used in RPGs is that most people simply have no idea what it's supposed to look like. This is not a trivial issue. Most communication in RPGs is verbal, and efficiency within it is at a premium, because if the GM has to drone on and on to describe something then all the players are going to tune out: so it's really, really handy if GM and players share a common stock of visual shorthand images. If your GM says: 'Suddenly, a barbarian warrior leaps out and attacks the knight!', then you know what to imagine: some dude who looks like Conan just jumped out and tried to whack some dude who looks like Sir Lancelot. 'The wizard hurls a lightning bolt at the ninjas!' translates as 'Some guy who looks like Gandalf just zapped a bunch of other guys in masks and black pyjamas'. Everyone knows what to visualise. Everyone is on the same page.

Central Asia, though... what does that look like? I guess most people probably have some kind of mental image for 'Mongol warrior': a kinda Asian-looking guy with a black beard on a horse. (But what kind of armour is he wearing? Is his hair long or short?) Beyond that, though, familiarity peters out. Saying 'you see a bunch of guys dressed like Tajik horsemen' just isn't going to have the same communicative efficiency as saying 'You see a samurai warrior' or 'you see a dwarf with an axe'.

So: here are some images of people from Central Asia, wearing more-or-less traditional dress. So that you can pick one, and point at it, and say: 'My character (or 'the woman you just met', or 'the men who are currently attacking you', or whatever) looks like that!'

Kyrgyzstan horseman.  Presumably pretty much what Ghengis Khan would have looked like.:
Kyrgyz horseman in riding gear.

A Turanian man in traditional dress.:
Turkic man in traditional dress.
Kuman-Kipchak archer.:
Cuman archer in wargear.
A Yakut shaman from the district of Verchne-Kolymsk. Note the fringe or veil obscuring the shaman's eyes.    Photo: Lissner - Man, God and Magic:
Yakut shaman in ritual regalia.
Turkmenistan. with Akhal Teke horse:
Turkmen man in traditional dress, with traditional dog on traditional horse.

Russia The Itelmen are the original settlers of the Kamchatka Peninsula which is opposite Alaska. You may therefore notice similar ethnicity to the First Nation peoples. @
Buryat woman in traditional dress.
High-status Mongolian woman in traditional dress.
Kirghiz woman in traditional costume; Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia:
Kyrgyz woman in traditional dress.

Azerbaijani traditional costume Traditional headwear is my favorite:
Azerbaijani woman in traditional dress
Kazakh woman in traditional dress.
Tajikstan. Central Asia.:
Tajik woman in traditional dress
Uzbek woman:
Uzbek woman in traditional dress.


Tartar man and women in traditional dress.

Kyrgyz couple in historical costumes.:
Kyrgyz couple in historical dress.